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The East Asia Program conducts research on the politics and foreign policies of the countries of East Asia, with a focus on how domestic politics in these countries shape external behaviour. Researchers focus on China, Indonesia, and Myanmar, and commission work by other scholars on the broader region. The program also holds a robust series of dialogues and events on the politics of the region, independently and in partnership with other organisations.

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Mindanao: In the face of a new, united threat, Duterte courts unorthodox alliances

The conflict in the Philippines’ city of Marawi has now claimed the lives of 100 people, and President Rodrigo Duterte is committed to his May 23 imposition of martial law for the entire southern island of Mindanao (in which Marawi is located). In the face of a newly-united radical Islamist opposition, Duterte appears to be trying to build a coalition of his own between government forces and various separatist groups. However, it is unclear if such an alliance will materialise, given these groups’ concerns with Manilla’s declaration of military rule. Moreover, the degree to which the President’s current strategy can effect lasting positive change in Mindanao remains uncertain.

Since last week, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have been fighting an amalgamation of two distinct radical Islamist groups: Abu Sayyaf and the Maute group. Isnilon Hapilon, an Abu Sayyaf leader, pledged his loyalty to the Islamic State (IS) in 2014, while the Maute group explicitly aligned itself with IS somewhat later, in 2016. On May 23, government forces attempted to capture Hapilon in Marawi, but encountered joint resistance from both Hapilon’s forces and members of the Maute group, which sparked the current conflict. In March of this year, Sidney Jones wrote on The Interpreter that the relatively recent alliance-building between Hapilon, the Maute group, and other IS-aligned organisations enables more unified opposition to the government in the southern Philippines. The Marawi crisis would seem to be bearing out this claim. The Philippines’ leaders must accept that they are engaged in conflict with a newly-organised enemy that presents a more focused threat.

Duterte’s recent actions suggest that he believes a good response to united opposition is some unorthodox alliance-building of his own. Over the weekend, Duterte offered an olive branch to the Moro National Liberation Front and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (the MNLF and MILF, respectively) the largest and most established groups that have fought the government for increased autonomy for the Philippines’ Moro Muslim minority. Unlike Abu Sayyaf and the Maute group, neither Moro group has aligned itself with IS. Duterte proposed that fighters from the two groups could receive pay and other rewards for fighting alongside the AFP against Abu Sayyaf and the Maute group. The AFP in turn would benefit from the separatists’ battle experience and knowledge of local terrain.  

Duterte claims to have received a pledge of 5000 troops from MNLF leader Nur Misuari, but there have been no corresponding claims from Misuari himself. A May 29 meeting with MILF leaders appears to have been productive; MILF leaders welcomed the idea of their troops being used to support civilians trapped in Marawi, but  did not make explicit troop commitments. Moro group leaders may oppose Abu Sayyaf and the Maute group, but they may also be concerned that Duterte will turn on them under the auspices of martial law, perhaps after the threat from IS-aligned groups dissipates.

The President also called for military cooperation from the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), which has been leading its own nation-wide, anti-government insurgency  centred in Mindanao. On Monday, one of the group’s key advisers said that the NPA is opposed to Abu Sayyaf and the Maute group’s violence against civilians, and expressed interest in cooperating with the government in the conflict in against Abu Sayyaf and the Maute group. However, the Duterte administration recently backed out of the fifth round of ongoing peace talks with the communists after the CPP called on NPA forces to attack government troops imposing martial law in Mindanao. Given these mixed messages, government cooperation with communist militants is far from a sure thing.

The MNLF and the MILF have been engaged in peace talks with the government for decades, though these talks have moved slowly, with intermittent interruptions from outbreaks of violence. Meanwhile, a ceasefire agreed to in July 2016 between the government and the communists collapsed completely in February of this year. As mentioned above, the negotiations that have occurred since have been fitful at best.

Duterte’s new openness to rebel groups may represent a break from these groups’ troubled peace negotiations with the government. However, it would be dangerously naïve to presume that Duterte’s recent actions will bring about a lasting brighter future for Mindanao. Malcolm Cook of the Institute for Southeast Asian Studies points out that Duterte already declared a national state of emergency in September after a Maute-linked bombing in Mindanao’s Davao City – and yet this was not sufficient to prevent the Marawi conflict. A recent editorial in Rappler, a Philippines news website, similarly notes that 'It [martial law] plays to our penchant for shortcuts, until it hits home. It makes us forget the real problems that have made terrorists thrive in the region.'

There are many obstacles to Duterte’s ambitious goal of an AFP-NPA-MNLF-MILF coalition. And even if such an alliance comes to fruition, it should not be seen as a means to achieving lasting peace in the southern Philippines.

No honeymoon for South Korea’s post-election security posture

With a left-leaning leader back in command in the Blue House following two consecutive conservative administrations, South Korea's new President is crafting an approach to North Korea that will attempt to reset the antagonistic course of inter-Korean relations during a critical moment of escalating tension on the Peninsula. Even under revitalised leadership, however, there are significant geopolitical and domestic constraints on Seoul's room to manoeuvre with its neighbour to the north.

North Korea has already conducted two ballistic missile tests in the short period since Moon Jae-In's inauguration on 10 May. Coming as they did after a prolonged pause in missile flight testing from October 2016 until February of this year, the latest tests were a clear signal inter alia that there is to be no honeymoon for the new President. There will be more missile tests in the weeks and months ahead, and a very strong likelihood that North Korea will resume nuclear testing sooner or later.

During the campaign Moon talked about regaining ownership of the North Korean nuclear issue. His essential challenge, which confronts all Blue House incumbents, is to avoid lapsing into a reactive posture to North Korea's 'provocations' that stymies Seoul's strategic room for manoeuvre, ceding the initiative to Pyongyang and the external powers active on the Peninsula. Augmenting this challenge, South Korea lacked a presence and a voice on the international stage in the prolonged lead-up to former President Park Geun-hye's impeachment in March. Now, at least, South Korea has an elected leader able to articulate its preferences and concerns at the international level.

Moon's pro-engagement preferences for dealing with North Korea are well known from his time as former President Roh Moo-hyun's (2003-08) Chief of Staff, thus the assumption that he will seek to resume inter-Korean exchanges on a similar scale to the 'Sunshine' policies of his progressive forebears. This potentially puts Seoul at odds with Washington's hard-line approach under US President Donald Trump in the context of international efforts to curb Pyongyang's accelerating advance towards a long-range nuclear missile capability. While Washington and Seoul share the common goal of de-nuclearising North Korea, such variance in their approaches towards North Korea carries the risk of friction within the US-South Korea alliance during Moon and Trump's coincident terms. However, the gulf may not be as wide as feared.

Two key aspects of South Korea's policy approach under Moon have thus far emerged.

1. 'Conditional Dialogue'

Moon's approach to engaging North Korea has been framed as a policy of 'conditional dialogue'. This is consistent with Moon's statements in the presidential campaign. During the debates, Moon stated 'there cannot be a dialogue with Kim Jong-un for the sake of a dialogue', and that he intended to go to Pyongyang only under the right circumstances, once the nuclear issue is in the process of being resolved. Moon's firm responses to North Korea's most recent missile tests have reaffirmed conditionality in his approach to dialogue, and also appear designed to dispel the accusation raised throughout the election campaign that he is 'soft' on Pyongyang.

It is therefore questionable whether the mothballed Kaesong Industrial Complex and Mount Kumgang tourist zones will be reactivated by Seoul unless Pyongyang gives a clear signal on de-nuclearisation. Moreover, Pyongyang's acquiescence is far from assured, given the overriding priority of nuclear development. If Pyongyang continues to show its teeth, Seoul will have no choice but to prepare its deterrent military capabilities. In the face of renewed North Korean missile launches, Moon has already ordered the speeding up of the mostly indigenous KAMD (Korean Air and Missile Defence) system. One interpretation is that Moon is politically preparing the ground to acknowledge the need for the US-supplied Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. Moon studiously avoided taking a fixed position on THAAD during the debates, even as the system was hurriedly deployed to South Korea just ahead of the election. Alternatively, by stressing KAMD as Korea's frontline missile defence system, Moon could be leaving his options open on whether to proceed with THAAD, with a view to resetting frayed relations with China. Beijing has conducted a sustained a campaign of informal economic sanctions in protest at THAAD's deployment, alleging that it undermines China's nuclear deterrent. It remains too early to tell which way the Moon Administration will go. President Trump's intervention, late in the campaign, suggesting that Seoul foot a $1 billion bill for THAAD's deployment has unfortunately made it a 'toxic' issue within the alliance.

2. Diplomacy first

The second aspect of Moon's unfolding North Korea policy suggests a greater role for diplomacy may supplement Seoul's traditional reliance on the US alliance and South Korea's own defence capability. Shortly after North Korea launched its first missile, Moon designated a group of special envoys to the US, China, Japan, Russia, Germany and the EU. While it is customary to appoint special envoys to major countries, this was the first time that such a team was assigned to Europe. The envoys, largely consisting of former ambassadors and security specialists, collectively signal an effort to reconnect independent diplomatic ties to the major powers, and to emphasise diplomatic levers as Moon's preferred solution to an impending security crisis.

Moon's senior appointments amplify this focus on diplomacy as means to resolve relations with North Korea. Chung Eui-yong, former ambassador and permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, has been appointed as National Security Adviser, a role typically given to military defence specialists. Kang Kyung-wha, a career diplomat and former assistant secretary-general in the UN, has become South Korea's first female nominee for foreign minister (despite her relative inexperience dealing with regional or nuclear issues). Among Moon's advisers for unification, foreign affairs and national security, Moon Chung-in is a Yonsei University professor intellectually close to Moon's political mentor, the late Roh Moo-hyun.

Another key appointment is that of Suh Hoon, nominated to head the National Intelligence Service (NIS). Suh's specialist North Korea background, including laying the groundwork for the 2007 inter-Korean summit, is a clear indication that Moon intends the new designated NIS director to take a leading role in dealing with Pyongyang. His appointment hearing will be held by the National Assembly on 29 May. Parliamentary approval is not required for the director of NIS (unlike the nominee for foreign minister, who must be confirmed by the National Assembly). This line-up of appointees from non-traditional spheres signals Moon's intention to distance his administration from previous corrupt practices, but it also points in the direction of a negotiated approach towards resolving North Korea's security challenges. Diplomacy over hard-line defence measures will be the ruling principle of Moon's North Korea policy.

Reflecting a somewhat hopeful national mood after impeaching a corrupt administration, public opinion in South Korea is looking favourable for Moon in these early days of his administration. However, his ability to shape events is already being tested by Pyongyang, which can be relied upon to exploit friction points between Seoul, its currently unpredictable ally America, and an increasingly assertive China. Managing these overlapping problems on top of the immediate security challenge posed by North Korea will quickly test the dynamism of Seoul's new President and his administration.

Indonesian democracy: Down, but not out

The imprisonment on blasphemy charges of Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, better known as Ahok, has been a blow to hopes that his earlier success in public office represented the emergence of a more pluralist politics in Indonesia. There is little question that the accusation that Ahok had insulted the Koran, for which the evidence was always quite thin, contributed to his defeat in polls last month. Sadly, his defeat and imprisonment may discourage others of Ahok's ethnic and religious background from seeking public office.

Yet some journalists have gone further, arguing that Ahok's defeat and imprisonment are not just a solitary victory for the Islamists who demanded his ouster, but an indication that Indonesian Islam is increasingly intolerant, that its democracy is moving in a fundamentally illiberal direction, and that a well-funded coalition of Islamists and populists will ride the wave of these changes to victory in the next presidential election in 2019.

But there are also reasons to believe that these analysts have overstated the broader implications of the verdict, and that Indonesia will revert to form.

First, Indonesia has never been as tolerant as the clichéd praise of journalists and visiting dignitaries would suggest. Though the constitution allows for freedom of worship, this is in practice a group right rather than an individual right. The state authorises adherence to one of six religions, but citizens are not free to deviate from these six, and can be prosecuted under blasphemy laws for challenging religious authorities. Over 100 people have been charged with blasphemy since 2004. In the case of Ahok, the defendant was unusual, but the charges were not.

Indonesia's system of group rights affects how Muslim leaders and many of their followers think about politics and the role of religious minorities. Social cohesion is often placed ahead of freedom of conscience. For example, surveys conducted by Boston University's Jeremy Menchik in 2010 illustrated that even among the most tolerant Muslim groups in Indonesia, most clerics were opposed to the idea of a Christian serving as a leader of Muslim-majority areas like Jakarta. In other words, Indonesia is tolerant but not liberal.

Second, some research suggests opposition to Ahok may have had more to do with anti-Chinese sentiment than the influence of political Islam. During the Suharto era, even as Islamist organisations were suppressed, Indonesian leaders libelled the ethnic Chinese minority as a foreign business elite of questionable loyalty, curtailed their participation in public life, and stoked popular resentment to deflect criticism of their own cronyism, especially when economic growth faltered.

Under democratic rule, conditions for Chinese Indonesians improved, but indigenous elites have periodically returned to anti-Chinese rhetoric. President Jokowi's opponent in the 2014 presidential election, Prabowo Subianto, frequently used rhetoric that implied Chinese Indonesians were foreigners enriching themselves at the expense of their fellow Indonesians. And few Chinese Indonesians in the democratic era have succeeded in winning executive office. Again, Ahok was the exception, not the rule.

There is, however, a broader constituency for anti-Chinese populism than there is for political Islam, so it would be a mistake to assume that all those who marched or voted against Ahok also support the Islamist agenda. Some Islamist leaders, emboldened by Ahok's fall, say that they plan to tap into resentment against ethnic Chinese to push their agenda further. But without a target as prominent and polarising as Ahok, it will be more difficult to use anti-Chinese populism to mobilise popular resentment to the same degree.

The protests against Ahok last year that appear to have pushed the Attorney General to lodge the blasphemy case were very well-funded – and not for religious reasons. The largest protests since Indonesia's return to democracy received unprecedented financial and logistical support from an ad hoc coalition of political party bosses seeking to defeat a close ally of the president ahead of general elections in 2019 (as Jokowi himself demonstrated in 2014, the Jakarta governorship is the ideal launching pad from which to mount one's own presidential campaign). Free transportation and food for the demonstrators, as well as donations to organising groups, were instrumental in managing the business of bringing hundreds of thousands into Jakarta to demonstrate against Ahok's alleged blasphemy, in demonstrations led by radical organisations that normally play a fringe role in Indonesian society.

Once Ahok was declared a suspect in the blasphemy case, however, the contributions dried up, and radicals' subsequent efforts to convene large demonstrations flopped. Even malcontent elites do not want their hard-line hatchet men given a seat at the table.

Attendees at the rallies were hardly liberals, but nor were they mostly Islamist radicals. Greg Fealy, a leading expert on Islamic activism in Indonesia who attended the largest, ultimately peaceful rally noted that participants explained to him that they were motivated to attend by a desire to take part in what promised to be a monumental gathering of their coreligionists. They agreed that Ahok should be removed from public life, but they stopped short of arguing that religious laws should be superior to the secular laws of the Republic.

The coalition of Islamists and populists that brought down Ahok have now trained their sights on a bigger target: President Jokowi, who is up for re-election in two years. But they will struggle to replicate their success against Jokowi, who has all the financial and political advantages of incumbency and, more importantly, is of Javanese rather than Chinese heritage, and a Muslim rather than a Christian. Smear campaigns suggesting otherwise during the 2014 presidential election were ineffective, and would be even less compelling following five closely watched years as President.

That said, the Jokowi Administration has erred as it has sought to push back against the forces of populism and intolerance by giving in to their demands that Ahok be tried for his remarks, and by adopting some of their illiberal tactics.

Jokowi realised too late that the blasphemy allegations might be successfully used against his erstwhile deputy. He avoided early opportunities to dispel the accusations as a smear campaign, for fear of being seen as too liberal, and his vague pronouncements about allowing the legal process to run its course provided too much room for manoeuvre to those who would exploit that process. Although the President stepped up his outreach to Islamic leaders and other major political figures when the scope of the crisis became clear, it was too little and came too late to turn back the momentum against Ahok. 

By contrast, the day before Ahok was sentenced, the Jokowi Administration announced that it would go to court to seek the dissolution of the Islamist group Hizbut Tahrir, which played a leading role in the protests. Indonesian leaders have long considered banning the organisation because it advocates the establishment of a caliphate in Southeast Asia, but have held off because it rejects violence. The decision seems motivated more by politics than law, and it will require compliance from a court system that just demonstrated its fear of confrontational Islamist groups. Banning the organisation could also drive its followers underground, where security services will have greater difficulty monitoring their activity, and may prompt its followers to reconsider their non-violent approach.

The announcement – couched in the authoritarian language of the Suharto era  legitimises the dissolution of non-violent civil society groups, a practice far more likely to be used against minorities and those advocating for a more pluralist Indonesia than against other, less tolerant groups. As with the government's recent decision to bring treason charges against a motley but largely harmless crew of activists, fringe political figures and disaffected generals who were engaged in last year's protests, its move against Hizbut Tahrir highlights the risk that the government's heavy-handedness will backfire.

Jokowi thus bears some responsibility for the predicament in which he and his compatriots now find themselves. But all is not lost. There has been an outpouring of support for Ahok from supporters of pluralism and moderate civil society since the verdict was announced. Popular support for the forces of intolerance very well may have peaked, and if starved of elite support they are likely to continue foundering.

Jokowi has been damaged by the episode, but remains in a strong position going into Indonesia's long presidential campaign. He should learn from his earlier missteps, and take a strong stand against those actively politicising intolerance now rather than later, in the political arena rather than the courts, from a position of relative strength.

In China, changing online attitudes towards Korea

Additional research by Zixin Wang, an intern in the Lowy Institute's East Asia Program.

Shen Zhihua, a world-renowned Chinese scholar of the Cold War, recently proposed that 'North Korea is China's latent enemy and South Korea could be China's friend'. His comments, made at Dalian University of Foreign Languages in March, made headlines in the Western media. Implicit is the suggestion that the Chinese government should rethink its strategy on the Korean Peninsula.

Shen's remarks were reproduced and circulated on China's micro-blogging platform Weibo, prompting a small-scale discussion. While some users characterised his comments as toxic and provocative pro-US rumours, this was balanced with some who hold him in high esteem. Online opinion seems to have swayed neither for nor against Shen – an interesting shift from the anti-South Korea rhetoric that dominated less than two months ago.

Shen's remarks and the response on Weibo are just one aspect of a broader discussion over China's posture towards the Korean Peninsula. As David Kelly and Joost van Deutekom noted last month, other prominent Chinese analysts have published their thoughts in media outlets. Military commentator Zhao Chu called for a reset of Korea policy, including greater consideration for US cooperation and South-led reunification. Yan Xuetong appealed in the Global Times for China to accept a nuclear North Korea as the new reality, while Korea specialist Cao Shigong strongly disagreed with this proposal.

This diversity is apparent in other online debates on China's approach to the Korean Peninsula. When footage from Kim Jong-nam's murder at Kuala Lumpur Airport was released in late February and caught public attention on Weibo, some responded with disgust, ('the existence of the Kim dynasty is the shame of modern civilised society!') while others reacted with reserve ('if North Korea did it, it's best for China not to intervene').

Unsurprisingly, the US role on the Korean Peninsula has not escaped debate. When news of a US carrier approaching the Korean Peninsula trended on Weibo, some were suspicious of US motives, proposing that China should take an active response rather than dismiss the issue as none of its business. On the other hand, one even suggested the US should bomb North Korea, while others affirmed their hatred for the US, even going as far to suggest a revival of the 'resist America and support Korea' campaign which defined China's Korean War approach in the early 1950s.

Most recently, a flood of Weibo users responded with fervour to North Korean state media's (KCNA) lambasting of China. Under the hashtag 'North Korea criticises China' (#朝鲜批评中国#), some users expressed their wishes for peace, while others called North Korea out for its abnormal foreign relations. North Korea's outburst elicited amazement – if it wasn't for the closeness between North Korea and China, jibed one commenter, North Korea would have already become Syria. Another view framed North Korea as a rebellious child, but one that could eventually be taught a lesson.

Like the response to Shen's comments, the debate surrounding the Korean Peninsula reflects a diversity of opinion, coinciding with piecemeal changes to China's North Korea policy. Since February, China has slowly but 'seriously' implemented the ban on coal imports, turned back cargo ships, allegedly cut vital oil supplies, and perhaps even urged North Korea's nationals to leave.

As North Korea relentlessly signals its readiness to continue testing its nuclear weapons, it's an open question as to whether the Chinese government is sending up trial balloons online to test how the nation might react to policy changes on the Korean Peninsula. Whether public opinion actually factors into foreign policy-making in China is debatable, but public opinion is monitored nonetheless.

However, this debate also shows clear signs of being curated. The recently discussed hashtag 'North Korea criticises China' has now disappeared. In its place, two new hashtags and topics of conversation have emerged: 'North Korea criticises China by name' and 'Ministry of Foreign Affairs responds to KCNA criticism'. Weibo public opinion is routinely whittled into a shape, which serves politics. Such a reframing of the debate suggests that China is well aware that its North Korea policy – and all discussion of it – is closely watched. China has to be seen to be doing something, or at very least, discussing doing something.

Resource nationalism in post-boom Indonesia: The new normal?

Most observers expected resource nationalism in Indonesia to fade once the global commodity boom ended. Yet despite more difficult economic circumstances, Indonesia’s government has stayed on a nationalist economic path. This Analysis examines the factors that sustain resource nationalism in Indonesia and make it more resistant to boom-bust cycles than in the past. Photo: Getty Images/Bloomberg

North Korea: ‘A most enterprising country’

A myth told and re-told in the West is that North Korea, a 'hermit kingdom' and 'pariah state', is cut off from the outside world. North Korean people suffer indescribable isolation, socially, politically and geographically. But as Justin Hastings, Associate Professor in International Relations at the University of Sydney, argues in his new book, North Koreans at all levels of society, from the top to the very bottom, are less economically isolated and more integrated into the global economy than we might imagine.

A Most Enterprising Country: North Korea in the Global Economy is an attempt to explain how North Korea, despite its isolation, stays afloat through trade and integration in the global economy. It is a hard task, not only because the quality and quantity of trade 'would be unrecognizable to many other states in the international system', but also because reliable data is notoriously sparse. But Hastings sets out to detail the extent of North Korea’s international trade networks, and how it produces, distributes and sells goods, labour and information through global networks.

The journey begins in the 1970s, when North Korean embassies became 'revenue centres' and were required to be self-resourcing and funnel money back home. The 1990s brought the end of the Cold War, a deadly famine ('the Arduous March') and the collapse of the formal economy, which served as a catalyst for structural change at all levels. This sets the scene for the story of how North Korean state, private and hybrid trade networks have adapted to a new economic reality in which they can no longer rely on the state for their food and financial needs. Instead, engaging in enterprise through illicit and informal networks between North Korea and China became the norm, enabled by a relatively kind international environment but which later managed to overcome the harsher sanctions levied by the UN in 2006 in response to the North’s first nuclear test.

The book then details how the North Korean state navigated this inhospitable environment and operated globally using state resources to raise money and bring back goods, focusing on the import of nuclear components and dual-use goods, and the export of weapons. From Japan to Germany, through Chinese and Taiwanese brokers and ethnic community links in Japan, North Korean traders fit into and made use of global trade flows. North Korean embassies sold counterfeit cigarettes and hard drugs on a global scale, and traded missile technology for nuclear weapons technology with Pakistan. In all of this, China is the gateway.

The focus then shifts from state to populace in the 'new' North Korea, with its culture of bottom-up entrepreneurialism. The book explores how private traders in small networks duck and dive on the borderlands of North Korea, making use of the ethnic Korean community in northeast China to serve their trading needs. Some 'hybrid' traders assume fluid identities between state and private status, trafficking drugs over the border into China and onwards into the global supply chain. Private traders buy rank in state organisations and officials assume identifies as private traders to navigate the illegal environment. Whatever works.

Hastings then turns his attention to the business environment within North Korea. He asks 'why North Korean trade networks can be so effective while North Korea itself remains so far behind economically'? He attempts to answer this question by investigating the experiences of foreign companies in North Korea. Unsurprisingly, many struggle and those which remain keep their operations lean and take on the characteristics of North Korean traders to survive.

Hastings is careful not to jump to conclusions or make value judgements in response to big questions about economic reform and denuclearisation, but suggests that what we can take away from his research is that North Korean people of all statuses have proved that they can survive separately from the state. He avoids the moralising rhetoric so often seen in books on North Korea and refuses to address polemical questions of whether North Korea is 'capitalist' or really still 'communist'. Rather, he presents the summation of years of detailed research and fieldwork simply, noting that in all he has observed and read, the North Korean economy has survived because of its enmeshment in the global economy, albeit mainly through the Chinese gateway, which remains a vulnerability.

Hastings draws on various secondary sources and makes use of the available data on North Korea, relying mainly on UN Comtrade, but also North Korea's state website and on just one occasion the Chinese Ministry of Commerce. What stands out is the extensive and up-to-date use of interviews conducted with economists and academics, foreign NGO workers, think-tankers, businessmen, and trading company representatives from Seoul to Beijing and throughout the China-North Korea borderlands. A limitation of the book is that the majority of primary source material is regionally focused – future studies on North Korea in the global economy would benefit from fieldwork outside of Asia.

North Korea in the Global Economy is both rigorous and accessible. Stylistically speaking, this is not bedtime reading, but Hastings' work attempts to make sense of this smoke-and-mirrors nation, and is determined to bring rational insight to light for consideration by policymakers, academics, students and anyone with a serious interest in North Korea.

Indonesia di Laut Cina Selatan: Berjalan sendiri

Selagi Indonesia di bawah pimpinan Jokowi dapat diharapkan terus mengambil langkah unilateral untuk memperkuat posisi Indonesia di sekitar Kepulauan Natuna, Jokowi belum memainkan peran diplomasi yang aktif pada isu Laut Cina Selatan yang lebih luas. Untuk jangka panjang, Indonesia akan lebih baik mencurahkan lebih banyak perhatian pada kepemimpinan bidang diplomasinya. Foto: Getty Images/Ulet Ifansasti